by KRISTEN WILSON
Special to the Sounder
The new band director for the Orcas Schools is Darren Dix, a multi-instrumentalist who loves teaching music.
A December 2012 graduate of Pacific Lutheran University in music education and certified in K-12 instrumental music and general music, Dix’s primary instruments are saxophone, trumpet, voice and trombone.
He will be teaching band in the fifth through 12th grades.
“What impresses me about Darren is that he is looking forward to building long lasting relationships with his music students, starting from fifth grade on up through high school,” said Pamela Wright, director of strings, choir and elementary music. “We are thrilled he accepted the position, and he’s going to be a great fit for Orcas.”
Dix comes from Roy, Wash. (population 803), where he lived since he was nine years old.
“It took us 20 minutes by car to get to ‘real civilization’ as we like to call it,” he said.
Growing up Dix learned to play a variety of instruments – often by teaching himself.
“I started on clarinet in sixth grade and switched to saxophone in seventh grade. In eighth grade I taught myself how to play flute, trumpet and trombone, and played a little bit of oboe in ninth grade.”
When he was in the 10th grade Dix auditioned for and was placed as principal trumpet for the Debut Orchestra of the Tacoma Youth Symphony, and the following summer he toured Europe with the Washington Ambassadors of Music.
In his senior year of high school he played lead trombone for the symphonic band, lead saxophone for the wind ensemble, alto sax for the jazz band, then took up bass clarinet for the school musical “Once Upon A Mattress.”
In college Dix moved on to learning bassoon, French horn and tuba. He was recruited to the wind ensemble to play contra alto and contra bass clarinets. In concert band he played saxophone, trombone and percussion. Recently, Dix adds, “I have found a new love in playing bass trombone, but I also love the sound of the marimba.”
After graduating from PLU Dix worked as a substitute teacher in the Bethel and Sumner School Districts. Before that he was student teaching at Sumner High School, where there were 168 students in the band and color guard combined.
Teaching in classes of up to 96 students, and working with two jazz bands, marching band rehearsals and parades, community performances, student competitions, etc., Dix was kept busy almost around the clock.
“My typical day was to get up at 4 a.m., leave by 4:30 a.m., get to school at 5:15 a.m, start teaching at 5:55, teach until 2:05 p.m., monitor band room after school for an hour so students could practice, leave for at most an hour for dinner, and be back at school for evening rehearsal, then teach again and leave school around 10 to 11 p.m. It was an intense semester, but I learned so much and had a ton of fun!”
It will probably not come as a surprise that in his spare time Dix enjoys practicing at least one of his instruments and listening to everything from non-mainstream alternative rock to the works of symphonic band composers Samuel Hazo, Robert W. Smith and Frank Ticheli, and classical composers Britten, Debussy and Chopin.
Although he hasn’t done much composing himself, Dix said he has been working on a “Ghostbusters” arrangement for a pep band. He also enjoys going on walks, watching movies, cooking, traveling and connecting with friends.
“Now that I have been here for a month I can happily say that I am greatly enjoying living on Orcas Island!” Dix said. “Having Mt. Constitution here is so amazing. I have already been up to the top multiple times. And I love being able to walk to a beach or into town in just 20 minutes!”
Dix’s e-mail address includes the words “Music Man” – and there are no better words to describe this real-life music man and dedicated teacher.
“What attracted me to the Orcas job is the fact that it is in a community very supportive of music and is a program that allows me to teach all levels of musicians,” he said. “The fact that the school is building a new music addition was definitely a ‘plus’ on my list of pros for the job, because it shows great support of the arts. I am planning on giving students information about honor groups and drum corps. There are so many opportunities that are available to students and I think that it is my responsibility to make those known.”